by Edwin L. Carpenter – Associate Editor, The Dove Foundation
Bruce Barry is not a man who lets things get him down. He spoke to The Dove Foundation recently from his car in Florida, and it was seventy one degrees outside with a forecast of ninety along with one hundred percent humidity. Yet his enthusiasm and zest for life and his career easily energized the phone line.
Bruce is the mastermind behind Wacky World, the well known animation studio which has produced the “Roach Approach” series, now renamed “Bug Rangers.” His father worked for Disney and Bruce began drawing when he was a few years old. He was born and raised in New Jersey but his career would take him elsewhere. He began our interview by speaking of the genesis of his career as an artist.
“My dad was a cartoonist for Disney,’ said Bruce. “I learned cartooning at an early age. I can remember drawing at three years old with my dad. My father taught me cartooning, and pen striping, airbrushing, sign painting, sculpting, wood-working. I mean he taught it all. The one love he had was the cartooning, which he bestowed upon me.”
Bruce said he’s enjoyed it ever since that tender age of three. “The thing of it is it makes me happy. I can’t wait to get up in the morning. I look forward to putting that pencil to the paper!”
“I knew from day one that I was always going to be an artist. My dad had a company, called A and B Signs, and after school and during holiday seasons, I would work with my dad. So I learned from hands-on training. I was lettering trucks and we were doing murals in restaurants. There was a place called Burch’s Island up in New Jersey. That’s where I got my first taste of doing Amusement Park stuff, which I absolutely loved. I did cartoons and the old arcade signs.”
“I founded Wacky World about twenty three years ago. It was called ‘The Wild and Wacky Wonderful Rooms for Children’. That got cut real short after about a month and it ended up as just Wacky World. I started out in the back of my car. I had just gotten out of the Navy. I went to the boat-yards in Tarpon Springs. I would hand-letter boats, and it just built up from there.”
Bruce said he believed his stint in the Navy helped with the discipline he would need to stay at his craft and work hard. “Back when I was seventeen/eighteen years old, the only time I really worked was when I needed to pay some bills. If I needed to pay the rent, I went out and did a sign. When I needed food I went out and did a truck.”
Bruce started drawing cartoons on the envelopes of letters he was mailing while he was in Boot Camp, and soon his fellow sailors wanted him to draw cartoons on their envelopes. One guy started it by asking him to draw a cartoon on his envelope, and Bruce replied, “Sure, for a buck!”
“I was making forty or fifty bucks on a Sunday afternoon just cartooning on envelopes in Boot Camp! My dad gave me the business side and the Navy gave me the structure.”
This led him to do birthday cards for captains and admirals on various boats in the fleet. After he moved from doing business in his car, Bruce went to an unusual place. “So I’ve lived in my car and a public storage unit.” But Bruce puts a positive spin to it. “It led to where I am now.”
Bruce is the founder and president of Wacky World. He said things have changed a lot over the years. “The way that I was raised everything was hand done. To letter a truck—it was all hand done with the old brush. And now with technology and computers—everything is done on computers now. We still hand draw a lot of our stuff but once it’s hand drawn—man, it’s in the computer, it’s painted up, everything is wallpaper and animation and it’s hard to even keep up with it because it changes every day.”
We asked Bruce if there were negatives regarding the changes. “What I’m very blessed with is that I’m old school and I’m new school. So when the computer goes down or they freeze up, I can still grab my markers and paint brushes. I still know how to do it.”
“My dad taught me what a good artist is. It’s not just being good at one thing. He said, ‘Make sure you can sculpt, make sure you can airbrush and draw and cartoon, and paint in water colors and oils’ and I was always one of those guys who was always asking questions and asked the older guys to help me.”
Unfortunately, Bruce’s father passed away when he was seventeen but his influence is obviously still felt and appreciated by Bruce. “I know he’s looking down and is very proud of what I’ve been doing.”
We asked Bruce what are the most rewarding aspects of what he does. “You know what it is for me? We design children’s churches all over the United States. It’s not the money; it’s not the paycheck, even with the Bug Rangers. When I go to the Grand Openings after we’re done doing a church, and I see the families and the kids who are just shaking to get into church, that’s what it’s all about for me. And when the moms and dads come up to me and say, ‘You know what? My kid hated going to church. And now I can’t get him out of church.’ And that’s what it’s all about. And with the Bug Rangers DVD series, I have so many people e-mail me. Or when I’m on a flight, they’ll ask, ‘Are you Bruce Barry?’ And I’ll say, ‘Yeah,’ and they’ll say, ‘When are you coming out with more?’ And that’s my reward right there.”
Bruce spoke enthusiastically about reaching people. “I just love people. When I design the Bug Rangers, I create it and design it with a child’s heart in mind. I was born and raised with the Disney style and the Disney mentality. If you look at some old Disney stuff, he mentions God and God is good. Like Johnny Appleseed—if you ever watch that he’s just thanking God–thank you for the air, thank you for the water, thank you for the animals. And that’s the old Disney that I’m bringing back.”
The series changed its name from “Roach Approach” to “Bug Rangers,” following a huge survey in which parents related they loved the quality of the series, but did not “want a roach in my house,” according to Bruce. The parents rated their satisfaction with the series higher than “Garfield,” “Strawberry Shortcake,” and “Pet Alien.”
“Fox came back and said, ‘You know what? We’ve got a great product. We just need to change the name.’ So we re-branded it as ‘The Bug Rangers.’ Moms don’t mind bugs. Kids love bugs.”
We asked Bruce what he believes is the cutting-edge technology wave of the future, and he said computer animation. “In the past three years there have been new companies coming out with new ways to do fur and water. Fur and water are the hardest things to animate. Every day technology is changing so quickly.”
The future seems bright for Wacky World, as Bruce told us, “We’re in talks with a couple of companies, with Fox and the Weinstein Company, about doing a full theatrical release. We’re also in talks with other companies about doing thirteen or twenty six TV episodes.”
The company has been recognized for its talent, and the voiceover and music talent Bruce has incorporated has been interesting too, including Michael McDonald who has supplied music. “Natalie Grant did one of the songs for our first ones.” He mentioned others who have worked for him including Tommy Simms. Interestingly, Bruce himself does the voice of Basher, after someone else in the early days wanted an arm and a leg and rights to do it.
Bruce also bases some of the characters on people he has known, including Nana and Grandpa, who were based on two people who helped raise him in New Jersey. Bruce finished our interview by saying, “My goal in life is that I just want to reach kids.”
Bruce took his father’s advice to heart, as he has been painter, sculptor, cartoonist, voice-over artist, founder and president. He has worn a lot of hats. And kids of all ages are glad he has.